LAUREATION ADDRESS ON Professor Sir Kenneth Murray by Professor David Boxer Deputy Principal
Vice-Chancellor, I have the honour to present for the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa,.
Ken Murray, currently Emeritus Professor of Molecular Biology at the University of Edinburgh, is one of the most eminent scientists in Scotland. He developed the first vaccine against viral hepatitis B which has saved countless lives worldwide. He was one of the earliest workers in genetic engineering and was co-founder of the first European based Biotechnology company, Biogen. Furthermore, he has used almost all of his commercial income to found the Darwin Trust which has supported major developments in Biological Sciences at the University of Edinburgh and has supported the training of scientists especially those from the less affluent parts of the world.
Ken Murray was born in Yorkshire but brought up in the Midlands. He left school at the age of 16 to become a laboratory technician at Boots in Nottingham. He furthered his education on a part-time basis and eventually moved on to obtain a 1st Class Honours Degree in Chemistry and subsequently a PhD in Microbiology from Birmingham University. He was appointed, in 1967, to an academic position at Edinburgh University in what was then the only Department of Molecular Biology in the country, He led Molecular Biology in Edinburgh to a position of great strength and he has had major influence on research in Biological Sciences at the highest levels. He was one of the pioneers in the early development of methods for DNA sequencing - at a time when conventional wisdom doubted its possibility .... a far cry from the very recent announcement of the DNA sequence of the human genome.
During this time he became interested in a new class of bacterial enzyme which was able to cleave DNA at specific points. This was regarded by some as a rather esoteric pursuit but he was quick to realise that use of these enzymes could provide a means to clone or isolate specific genes - the fundamental process in what we now call Genetic Engineering. There then followed an exciting few years in which Ken, the biochemist, collaborated with an eminent bacteriophage geneticist, Noreen, his wife, who is in the audience today, to develop the new recombinant DNA technology. The Department of Molecular Biology at Edinburgh was one of the small handful of places worldwide in which this scientific revolution was born. Ken understood, at the very beginning, that this new technology could not only be used as a powerful tool to pursue basic science, but could also be put to practical use.
Together with colleagues in Europe and the United States, he founded Biogen - one of the first companies started specifically to exploit recombinant DNA technology. Ken's contribution to the developing research portfolio of Biogen was to clone parts of the DNA of the human Hepatitis B virus. He was vividly made aware a few years earlier, of the importance in public health of this virus by the tragic deaths at the Edinburgh Kidney Transplant Unit of medical workers who were caring for patients infected by the virus. At that time there was no means whereby the vaccine could be produced in the laboratory. Ken's cloning technology provided the way forward. First a tool for reliably diagnosing those infected by the virus and then a vaccine to combat the infection, were created and - significantly - patented. These innovations had a huge impact on health worldwide. It was one of the earliest and most important practical applications of molecular biology.
When it became clear that the royalty earnings from this breakthrough would be substantial, Ken donated his share of income to the Darwin Trust which he established in order to support education and research in natural science.
The Darwin Trust has had a profound influence on Biological Science in Edinburgh providing - funds to construct the Darwin Library, #2.5M towards the cost of the Michael Swann Building, funds to enable outstanding academics to visit and, perhaps most importantly, bursaries to support postgraduates and undergraduates from outside the UK, mostly from countries in Eastern Europe, to study in Edinburgh. So far, well over 100 students from 33 countries have been supported by the Trust.
Amongst the many honours and awards that Ken has received in recognition of his outstanding scientific achievements are, election to the Royal Society in 1979, the award of the Willem Meindart de Hoop Prize in 1983 and the Saltire Society (Edinburgh) Scientific Award in 1992. He was made a Knight Bachelor for his contributions to science in 1993. On Wednesday of last week he was presented with one of the first Royal Medals of the Royal Society of Edinburgh by the Queen at Holyrood Palace.
Ken has amply demonstrated that one of his favourite maxims when working at the bench - "experiments don't do themselves" - can be applied to many other aspects of life. He is held in the highest regard by all those fortunate enough to have been one of his colleagues. His career has been marked by integrity, modesty, hard work - his working hours are legendary - and generosity to individuals at all levels.
Ken Murray is an outstanding example for our graduates today. Not only is he an exceptional scientist but he has also demonstrated how academic laboratory based work can be applied for the benefit of all. Furthermore, he is a true modern day philanthropist.
Vice-chancellor, I have the honour to invite you to confer upon Professor Sir Kenneth Murray the degree of Doctor of Laws.
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